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AWADmail Issue 74April 1, 2002
A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Just in time for Easter, Technology and Oology, my story at SF Gate.
From: Andrew Cuk (robcukATsilcom.com)
Great word. Did you know in Quebec there are three towns whose names are: Grand Lac Ha Ha, Petit Lac Ha Ha, and St. Louis du Ha Ha? No joke.
From: Jeff Truman (jefftrumanAThotmail.com)
After reading about the ha-ha, I recalled a tiny village in Quebec, Canada, Saint Louis de Ha Ha, a place we passed often on our travels from Ontario to Northern New Brunswick. The links in the word-a-day article about ha-ha are interesting, and indicate ha-ha is derived from the pleasure at noticing the previously unnoticed division between man and nature - the sunken fence. However, the following explanation from the Saint Louis de HAHA website is more appropriate:
"Les pionniers de ce village, fondé en 1873, auraient poussé quelques "ah! ah!" d'admiration en dé, du haut d'une colline, le lac Té. Mais pourquoi la transformation de "ah! ah!" en "ha! ha!"? Sans doute une erreur de scribe sanctionné par l'usage. D'autre part, le vieux mot "ha! ha!" (en indien Hescuewaska) dé quelque chose d'inattendu."
The land, lakes and rolling hills were breathtakingly beautiful - "ah!ah!"; the name "ha-ha" was a transcription/translation error which were common going from French to English maps (e.g. the use of an 's' in old writing that looked like a 't' e.g. Jacques River becomes Jacquet River, New Brunswick). Whether any nobles laughed at the gentry bumping into fences is up for debate, though I can't see non-inebriated people running into ha-has like goldfish bumping the sides of their tanks - though the nobility .
From: Scott Andrews (scott.andrewsATdisney.com)
Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom is dependent on the ha-ha. While on the safari ride, guests enjoy the illusion that lions and elephants could walk right up to the vehicle. In fact, sunken fences keep humans and animals safe. The ha-ha is an integral part of the magic.
From: Robert Dana Kelly (rdkellyATacm.org)
I was first introduced to the ha-ha by the English fantasy/humor writer, Terry Pratchett. One of his characters, "Bloody Stupid" Johnson was the master of mangled sizes. He created such things as a triumphal Arch that fit in a matchbox, a salt shaker a family could live in, and a gazing pool one inch wide and fifty yards long. He also created the "ho-ho", a variation on the ha-ha, where the ditch portion was about 20 feet deep. The "ho-ho" name was derived from the sound the property owner made when someone *else* fell into the ho-ho.
From: Katherine Bates (batesATitos.uga.edu)
Monday's word brought back wonderful memories of a garden tour I took in southern England last June (in a bright pink bus, no less), during which I became quite a connoisseur of ha-ha's (the one in Bath is particularly notable, and I fell off one in Stourton). The name afforded the tour group a great deal of amusement and we came up with the truly brilliant palindrome "Ah! A ha-ha!"
From: Walter M Dixon, Jr. (wdixon14ATcox.net)
The "Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion, 1773-1774" explained that a ha-ha was frequently used in the fine Virginia estates of the colonial period. George Washington referred on several ocasions in his diary to the ha-has at Mount Vernon. A note to the Fithian Journal introduction says that, "According to a French etymologist, the name is derived from ha, an exclamation of surprise, uttered by one suddenly approaching such a boundary." HA!
From: Chuck Schneiderhan (schneiderhancjATcs.com)
The ha-ha hit Manhattan in the mid-to late-nineteenth century thanks to the brilliant park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. By dropping the cross-park transverse roads below-grade, these two visionary planners created the illusion that the 830-plus acre park rolls on unimpeded. This set of New York City ha-has helped preserve the rectangular parkland as a whole thereby making development less likely on what would have been a fragmented plot of land.
From: David Kahler (dkahlerATkahlerslater.com)
Thanks for the ha-ha. We recently completed the construction of ten ha-has in the Cudahy Gardens in the front of the new addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava. The project was named by Time Magazine as the Building of the Year 2001. My firm, Kahler Slater Architects was the architect of record. Still laughing at the coincidence.
From: Colin White (colin.whiteATtotalise.co.uk)
I was recently back visiting the place of my birth and childhood, Charlton in south-east London, England. I was delighted to see again my favourite street-name in the world - Ha Ha Road, named for the ditch that runs (or ran) along the side of it.
From: W. Goodall (winstonrdATaol.com)
Ha-ha was used in 18th Century England as an invisible fence to keep farm animals at a distance, most notably by Capability Brown who designed many of the great landscape gardens with their sweeping lawns, an effort to take the landscape back to nature. As Joe Eck says in his book, Elements of Garden Design, it was a landscape that "amply invited the eye to distant mountain tops, the picturesque cows cunningly held at an attractive distance by ha-has."
From: Susan (castleontheSeaATaol.com)
Oh, thank you, thank you for telling me what a ha-ha is. It has puzzled me so much every time I read Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park." From Chapter 10 -
"'Yes, certainly, the sun shines and the park looks very cheerful. But unluckily that iron gate, that ha-ha, give me a feeling of restraint and hardship. I cannot get out' ... 'You will hurt yourself, Miss Betram,' she [Fanny Price] cried, 'you will certainly hurt yourself against those spikes--you will tear your gown--you will be in danger of slipping into the ha-ha.'"
From: Eugene Sullivan (navillus34ATjuno.com)
Ha Ha is also the familiar form for mother in Japanese. What a surprise fence that is! Chi Chi is father we are informed by our lovely daughter in law!
From: Susan Ratzlaff (sueratzATaol.com)
FYI- the strands of lava that are fine and look somewhat windblown are called Pele's Hair. Pele is the Hawaiian Volcano fire Goddess.
From: Malcolm D Woade (mdwoadeATe-syncnet.com)
The Hawaiian language is transcribed into English using only twelve different letters including the five vowels. The spoken language, I believe, has only thirteen or fourteen different sounds. To make up for this relatively small number of sounds, the language has many words in which syllables are repeated. For instance: Hawaii, Honolulu, Kapaa, aa, pahoehoe. I have often seen an apostrophe after the first syllable as in (a'a or ali'i) to show that this is two distinct sounds. My very favorite word (my hyphens) in the whole world is the name of the Picasso triggerfish, the state fish: humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apu-a-a.
From: Marcia Todd (martoddATcogeco.ca)
I first heard this phrase in a speech by Franklin Roosevelt when he was discussing recovery from the Depression. I remember my father explaining this strange term to us. It made sense in that context: bumps on the road to recovery.
From: Ridge Kennedy (srkennedy99AThotmail.com)
Thank-you-ma'am was appropriated by baseball to refer to a weak ground ball hit back to the pitcher for an easy out.
From: George Jim (georgejimATaol.com)
This word, in reference a concave depression in the road, is the opposite of the convex version that causes the car to soar, briefly, into the air and then plummet earthward. This creates a rollercoaster sensation in the tummy. My father always called this a "kiss-me-quick".
From: Carol Fenimore (uspfenimoreATaol.com)
The definition 'thank-you-ma'am' reminds me of the expression 'sleeping policeman', which some Brits call a hump in the road put there to slow down traffic. In Spanish, a speed bump or 'traffic calming device' is called "tremolos". In the back country of Guatemala, it is usually just a thick piece of rope tied down across the dirt road. As your truck runs over the rope, your head sure does bob up and down, and the next time you are more likely to slow down. I discovered these little details about Central American traffic control when a group of friends and I were somewhat lost in the Guatemalan countryside. We kept on trying to match the names on the road signs to names of towns on the map. After going about 100 miles, seeing numerous signs for the town Tremolos, not being able to find it on the map, but getting very sore heads from our truck running over ropes tied across the road did it finally dawn on us that the signs for Tremolos was warning us about the speed bump ahead.
From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
The term thank-you-ma'am brought a number of responses. Etymologists may not agree with these origins but these make a fascinating reading. Here they are:
The pastor I had as a teenager was an old-time country preacher from whom I
learned about a thank-you-ma'am. He told me that in the old days when the
teacher paddled you, you were required to thank her for it. According to
him, it was the way the seat of the car smacked you as you went over the
bumps that gave rise to the term.
No, No. When we were growing up a thank you ma'am was an (upward) bump
in the road, like at an at-grade- crossing at the railroad tracks, that
caused the stomach to flutter (owing to the suspension of the car) giving
the same 'butterflies' in the tummy feeling you got when you kissed a girl.
Many of those depressions in the road were deliberately installed, so a
horse, pulling a load uphill, would have a chance to stop and rest without
having the load straining on his/her traces.
I was raised calling chuck holes "Thanky Ma'ams" because the bump would
throw the driver (presumably a man) and the passenger (presumably a woman)
against each other for a fleeting, modest moment of touch, whereupon the
driver would turn to the passenger, tip his hat, and say, "Thanky, ma'am."
It was understood that the driver would seek a road full of potholes if
his passenger were particularly winsome!
My mother, born in 1909 and raised in Texas in Methodist parsonages, told
me that "thank-you-ma'am" derived its meaning from what a feller said to
his girl on a Sunday afternoon buggy ride, after a bump in the road had
knocked him in her direction and he had stolen a kiss. There was also
something about certain roads being chosen for such a ride because of the
abundance of "thank-you-ma'ams".
I am inclined to believe that the source of this phrase is an old and not
particularly funny joke from my childhood (the 40s) or earlier. It concerned
the speed and frequency with which rabbits have sex. It had something to do
with the male bouncing his way through a line of females, exclaiming after
each encounter, "Wham, bam, thank you ma'am." Hence, after experiencing the
wham and bam of the bump in the road, "Thank you, ma'am."
From: Samantha Raven (samanthaATalliance.community.co.uk)
In England (where I live) and Australia (where I was born), "la-di-da" is used as an expression of scorn or a corrective for someone who is getting above themselves, as in "I'm going out to tea with Lady Muck today", to which the reply would be "Well, la-di-da!".
From: Bev Dawe (bdaweATinfinity.net)
My mother married a man 70 years ago named Dawe. Her official Christian name is Lottie, not Charlotte. She became Lottie Dawe.In those days she really did live up to the meaning of "la-di-da" and her friends often reminded her of this.
From: Allan Clark (hedge49ATearthlink.net)
The expression had some fame in Key West when the local hotel "La Terrazza de Marti" changed ownership and became the lavish tropical playpen of gay folk, and straights who weren't challenged by the milieu. The name, first said somewhat derisively, then gradually with a wink, became "La-Te-Da".
From: Sharon Letts (lettsgardenATyahoo.com)
It may be of interest to note that the word "la-di-da" was made famous in 1977 by Diane Keaton in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall".
From: Todd Singer (tsingerATmaplehurstbakeries.com)
"Corybantic" sparked a memory in me. I was reasonably sure that my dad told me he used to use this word as a test to see how good a given dictionary was. When I emailed him about the word, he responded with a description of where he first saw it:
"The author was Don Marquis who was also a newspaper writer. The premise of the stories was that Marquis would come into the newspaper office each day to find a story already written in his typewriter. The stories were always in lower case only and signed "archy". Marquis came in early one day to see archy (a cockroach who had been an author in a previous life) type by climbing to the top of the typewriter and launching himself head-first to the key he wanted, then dragging himself again to the top of the typewriter to repeat the process. The stories were about archy and his friends, primarily mehitabel the cat. In one story, archy wrote a poem in which he described mehitabel's dancing as corybantic. I've been infatuated by the word ever since, though I seldom find occasion to use it in every day conversation. If you get a chance sometime, read some of the stories; they're charming. Thanks for letting me relive some of my childhood (I first came across the stories in a literature class in high school)."
So, Anu, thank YOU for helping me impress my father. :-)
From: Marvin Balousek (porcupineATcore.com)
Several months ago I began to send copies of my accumulated AWADs to my high school English teacher who will be 100 this May. Helen M, who had to quit driving her own car only a couple of years ago, is still very active in her community. She reads books, is eager to learn but unfortunately knows nothing about computers.
She is fascinated with AWAD and refers to me as Mr. Wordsmith when she sends her interesting legible handwritten letters to me. Congratulations to you for your entertaining and thoughtful efforts for all of us.
From: Eric Shackle (eshackleATozemail.com.au)
A troika of offbeat attorneys call themselves Two Bitches from Hell and a Short, Fat Guy. Read about them in my e-book.
When I read some of the rules for speaking and writing the English language correctly, as that a sentence must never end with a particle, and perceive how implicitly even the learned obey it, I think -- any fool can make a rule and every fool will mind it. -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)